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After a flurry of trades during the 2022 season and a massive free agent deal to Xander Bogaerts, San Diego fans, quite reasonably, had expectations of the team’s first division title since 2006.
To say it hasn’t worked out well is a dramatic understatement.
Tuesday night, the Padres lost their third game in a row, getting blown out by the Pittsburgh Pirates. That loss, coupled with another Arizona Diamondbacks win, dropped them to 10.5 games out of first place in the NL West.
10.5 games is bad enough, but the Padres now sit in fourth place in the west, behind Arizona, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The wild card race is also rapidly slipping out of reach, with the Padres sitting 7.5 games out of a playoff spot. Similarly to the division, they’re currently behind three other teams in the standings. With the Pirates and Mets just behind as well.
In fact, the Padres are closer to the worst record in the National League than they are a playoff spot.
So what do they do now?
How Do The Padres Handle Juan Soto, Josh Hader?
There are any number of explanations for the Padres disappointing season.
Bad luck, poor “clutch” hitting and a lack of depth through the starting lineup certainly haven’t helped.
But the question going forward is simple: how do they handle the reality of where they are in the standings?
Their playoff odds have collapsed recently, mostly thanks to outstanding months from the Giants and Diamondbacks.
Incredibly the Padres have a positive run differential, meaning they’ve significantly underperformed by losing close games.
General manager A.J. Preller could decide to hold pat, expecting the team’s luck to change. Or he could try to add to the roster, even though no one of Soto’s caliber is available outside the organization.
San Diego’s estimated payroll is $250 million, and ownership could decide selling would hurt attendance more than it would help their payroll obligations.
That said, if they do decide to sell, they have several free agents-to be that would garner an immense amount of interest.
The aforementioned Soto is a free agent after the 2024 season, closer Josh Hader is a free agent after this season. Even Blake Snell is a free agent after the 2024 year.
The Padres emptied the farm system to get Soto and Hader last year. So it could be tempting to replenish some organizational talent by trading players they aren’t likely to sign.
And given the scarcity of talent at the deadline this year, they could make immense demands, especially for Soto.
Free Spending Meets Reality
It’s tough to say what the Padres will actually be willing to do.
Ownership and Preller have been among the most aggressive teams in baseball at trying to improve their roster.
But their spending hasn’t always been directed properly.
Bogaerts was an odd fit for a team that already had Ha-Seong Kim and Fernando Tatis Jr. Pushing Jake Cronenworth to first base was another bizarre choice that severely hurt his offensive value.
The lack of depth in the lineup has been exacerbated by Hail Mary bets on Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter.
Ownership could decide they’ve invested too much to change course now. Or they could decide to recoup some losses and pack it in for next season.
What the Padres and Mets decide over the next month will be the biggest story of the trade deadline, potentially impacting multiple teams.